Afghan insurgents rely on fertlizer bombs

Nov. 26, 2011 at 8:06 PM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Fertilizer is the low-cost choice for improvised explosive device makers in Afghanistan, a U.S. general says.

Afghan insurgents are known for filling plastic jugs with ammonium nitrate fertilizer. The Pentagon says the bombs are cheap to make, hard to detect and have wounded about 3,200 U.S. military personnel just this year, The Washington Post reported Friday.

"We are sweeping more and more of this stuff off the battlefield," Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero said of the fertilizer bombs. "But it just keeps coming, and it keeps growing."

Barbero met at his office in Arlington, Va., recently with Fawad Mukhtar, chairman of the Fatima Group, a Pakistani maker of fertilizers, to discuss ways to keep the company's fertilizer out of the insurgents' hands

Barbero told Mukhtar the company's fertilizer was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, the Post said. However, Mukhtar said less than 1 percent of its fertilizer found its way into insurgents' hands for use in bombs, the newspaper said.

"He is not a radical," Barbero said of Mukhtar. "I think he wants to be part of the solution.

The Post said Mukhtar declined to be interviewed for the article.

Fertilizer industry executives have been slow to embrace U.S. military requests they do something about the issue of fertilizer-fueled bombs, the Post said. They note the amount of fertilizer used in bomb is a small fraction of the total fertilizer produced.

"I appreciate the gravity of the situation," Donald Thomas, an executive with Illinois-based CF Industries, told the Post. "I have a son-in-law who is a lance corporal in the Marines. But when I look at the volumes [in insurgent bombs], it is nothing. It is two rail cars out of millions of tons."

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